On November 20, the 2022 FIFA World Cup officially kicked off in Doha, Qatar. Despite having erected extravagant new sports stadiums and polished up its picture-perfect infrastructure, the peninsular Arab country’s new facilities have failed to distract the public eye from a slew of scandals in the nation.
Western journalists and celebrities alike have been calling for a boycott of the soccer tournament. They have accused Qatar of human rights abuses, anti-LGBTQ policies, and ‘sportswashing’ — using a beloved sport to revamp a country’s reputation and gain soft power.
Meanwhile, in China, many have shown consistent interest in the soccer tournament even though the country’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Chinese conglomerates like Wanda Group and Vivo have invested over 1.3 billion USD in sponsorships for the event, outspending long-term American sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Budweiser.
Corporations aside, Chinese people are also expressing a massive interest in the World Cup. The game’s official hashtag on Weibo, China’s top microblogging platform, amassed 37 billion views in just a few days.
News of a die-hard Chinese soccer fan has also gone viral on Weibo, as the 25-year-old quit his job in the public sector and flew to Doha to watch the matches live.
Chinese celebrities, including ‘little fresh meat’ actor-singer Lu Han, have added their two cents to trending conversations about the sporting event and have tried to guess which team will secure first place.
Netizens have joked about the results of group stage draws, especially since some matches are happening between nations with complicated histories — not necessarily in terms of soccer, but regarding geopolitical conflicts. Some examples are Germany versus Japan, Iran versus the USA, and Wales versus Britain.
To cater to Chinese soccer fans, Belgium and Spain’s soccer teams have formed partnerships with the Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. Part of this involves sharing exclusive content on the platform, including team highlights and behind-the-scenes preparations.
Soccer has always been a popular sport in China. With nearly 200 million active fans, the Chinese market has attracted considerable international attention in recent years. (Fun fact: The 2018 World Cup in Russia has over 13.4 billion views on Chinese streaming platforms, such as Migu, Youku, and CNTV.)
Athletes like Argentinian soccer players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo even have Weibo profiles with millions of followers. However, China’s men’s soccer team has a long history of abysmal performances and has repeatedly disappointed domestic fans.
Cover image via Twitter
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